Visibility is powerful. And dangerous. If you’re not a white, heterosexual, male, cisgender Christian in America (or married to one), visibility can cost you your job, your family, your friends, your church, your life. I’m reminded of lines from an Indigo Girls song:
Oh, I just sit up in the house and resist
And not be seen until I cease to exist
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin. A recent representative few that I did not “see” until they ceased to exist. These people paid the ultimate price, again, for that arc of the moral universe that seems too long in its ever-so-slight, and slow, bending toward justice. Institutions of our society—including, and especially, families and churches—are stuck in patterns established over centuries in which the truth and scope of atrocities inflicted on Black people are kept only partially visible, countless victims sacrificed and then disregarded due to silent witnesses and too many generations of spin masters.
While the Black Lives Matter movement is not mine (I am a white ally), nor am I any ersatz Carolyn Forché (author of Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness), I did grow up in Middle and South Georgia a witness to some of the bigotry that has come to define America.
My public elementary school was one block from both our house and our church—our neighborhood a tiny dot in a small town dominated by an Air Force base. We students sat in pairs at tables with two grooves cut in the top, one on the left side and one on the right, for each of us to place a pencil. Underneath, two bins were mounted side by side to store papers. We did math out of workbooks with colored pictures and large numbers. Black lines formed blanks for our answers. I shared a table with Larry. I remember him as wiry with light brown hair, his thin fingers and hands the perfect mix of bone, muscle, and flesh. I don’t remember his last name, but I thought he was the cutest boy in school. I was thrilled to sit by him, a little nervous. I wrote a note to him—a typical elementary-school love note, like others I ’d seen and sent and received: I like you. Do you like me? With three check boxes, Yes, No, and Maybe. The Maybe was my addition. I folded the note into a rectangle, one side a triangular point that folded back into the note, “sealing” it. After Larry had gone out the door to recess, I put the note in his cubbyhole of our shared table. He never responded.
Later that day, I found myself in my first unfriendly visit to the principal’s office. Mr. Smith wore a dark suit with a white shirt and dark skinny tie. His dark hair was cut short, and he wore black-framed glasses that contrasted with his clean-shaven white face. It was 1972, but his dress I remember as quintessential sixties. Or fifties. The colorful seventies hadn’t hit their stride just yet, at least not in the administrative offices of Lindsey Elementary School in Warner Robins, Georgia. I was in trouble; I was uncomfortable in the moment and in the chair, an office guest chair that would have been much larger than the second-grade chairs in our classroom. My note to Larry lay on the desk between us. The paper buckled along the folds I had so carefully pressed.
I never knew if Larry threw my note in the trash and betrayed my affections in that way or if someone took it before he saw it (second graders are not as stealthy as we thought we were), or if he had lost it and it was found, on the floor, with both our names on it. And how did it get to Mr. Smith instead of to our teacher? Did anyone say anything to Larry? But Mr. Smith had my note. I remember a severe look on his face.
“Did you write this note?”
“Now,” he paused, then cleared his throat and looked at the note. “This is not something you should be doing in class.” His words were authoritative, but he didn’t make eye contact. He was an administrator confronted with a transgression that would have been impossible in prior years, navigating what he could say and what he shouldn’t ever say. I heard him, but his words were not making sense to me. These notes were common among kids in my class, who were always sending and receiving them. I had seen the teacher take notes away from students in class. Why was this different?
I came out of Mr. Smith’s office feeling like I had done something wrong, but not understanding what I had done or why it was wrong. I knew my parents were not called in, because they didn’t say anything about it when I got home—and they always had a talk with me after they ’d met with a teacher at my school. I never said a word.
Was it wrong to write a note to a boy? Or was it wrong to write a note during class? Perhaps the part that had sunk in most deeply and has had the most long-lasting effect in that slippery, subconscious way was that in writing the note, I had revealed a feeling, my feeling, about Larry. Writing it down, making a written record of it with such clarity proved to be dangerous. It got me in big trouble. I was too young to separate the writing from the feeling from having shared the visible documentation of my feeling. Since then, I have proceeded through my life with studied caution—and anxiety—about all three of those undertakings. I still don’t know what exactly was wrong, except that a white girl in second grade had written a love note to a Black boy, and you didn’t do that in Middle Georgia in 1972—the year after my school had been forcibly desegregated.
In third grade, we moved. My sister and I rode the school bus the ten miles or so out to the public school complex that served the entire county. The buses had also been integrated. Our bus driver, Mr. Jack, a retired Army man, was legendary for the discipline on his bus in general and for a specific race-related situation he tried to defuse. The story goes that one day a fight broke out in the back of the bus and quickly spread, dividing along racial lines. It got loud and violent. The smaller kids were afraid. The fight was like a fire, out of control and scary. Mr. Jack pulled the bus to the side of the road, went to the back and started pulling people apart, yelling at them to stop and sit down and shut up. Once everyone was separated and seated, he went back to the front of the bus and addressed everyone. In the tense atmosphere where angry and disturbed looks were still being exchanged among the high-schoolers, Mr. Jack boomed, “On this bus there are no white people and no Black people.” He paused before continuing, “You’re all green!” Some perplexed looks were exchanged and one of the younger kids stifled a giggle. “Now,” Mr. Jack continued, “All you dark green ones sit on this side of the bus and all you light green ones sit on that side.”
Flannery O’Connor, who died in 1964, once said that in the South, “Manners were all we had to cling to, that gave us civility to interact in a world rife with hatred.” My sense, even in the face of current criticism of O’Connor’s own racism, is that O’Connor meant manners, like a scab over an invasive wound, allowed people to interact when necessary despite the ugliness of racism that seethed beneath the surface. Mr. Jack’s solution worked for the rest of the ride home that afternoon, but the truce on the bus was little more than another scab that formed over the wounds of racism. And those could not heal because the pattern continued; scabs were routinely ripped off. Torn skin, the ripping of the surface, allowed raw emotion to escape, exposing what we really felt in all its savage ugliness. Scabs and, with time, scars make a thin mask over the hatred, covering, perhaps disguising, but not healing or removing it. And here, the analogy breaks down. The human body, a visual image often used by Jesus in parables to represent everything from church membership to divine covenant to eternal life, fails as a metaphor to help me understand the many disturbing and dangerous facets of racism—a hatred about skin itself. A scab is a step in the healing process and a scar, in the end, is visibly deadened skin that serves its purpose without feeling.
In school and in college it was easy for me to stand up for people of color, because my parents and I were aligned; I had grown up hearing about and participating in their efforts to fight racism. As campus minister at Georgia Southern College (now University), my dad, a United Methodist minister, helped the Wesley Foundation progress from 1964, when my mom was invited to tea with the Board Chair’s wife for a reprimand after my dad had attended a local Human Relations Council meeting to address racism in Statesboro—participation that had gotten his predecessor fired—to 1966 when he tried to have a biracial team from the Methodist Student Movement speak at the college (they were denied use of a campus building, the students were tired, and my parents let them rest in the bedroom of their apartment, which upset the neighbors), to 1968 when a sociologist at the college who was involved with the national network that created Head Start approached the Wesley Foundation to help with a project providing preschool activities for Black children. Not only did my parents participate, but they found Black-owned private property to use (the all-white school board had forbidden use of the all-Black elementary school, because the college students were white) and they included me, where I was the only white preschooler in the program. In June of 1987, my parents moved to St. Simons Island, and, home from college, I took a summer job at Epworth by the Sea, the United Methodist Center there. After one event, I heard the affluent white wife of a retired executive at the center say, “We’ll just leave these leftovers out for the ‘negras.’ ” Her lilting Southern accent shaped the o into an a. I wrote a letter to the Center’s superintendent, telling him I was incensed to have heard this woman, whom I ’d grown up admiring for her leadership in church work, say such a racist thing. These individuals had names, lives, hobbies, and aspirations, same as me. How could they be referred to collectively, and colloquially, as merely a color? These were my coworkers and my friends—friends who that August conspired with my parents to “kidnap” me and take me out to dinner as a surprise before I went back to college. I was proud to be one of them, but at the same time, we made jokes about gay people. Perhaps homophobia seemed benign because none of us knew any gay people. Or thought we didn’t. Sexual identity was not always visible in the ways that race was; many LGBTQ people could, and did, choose to “pass” in 1980s small-town South Georgia.
When I was twenty-four, living in Atlanta, Mom and Dad had come up to stay at a friend’s house outside the city. They wanted my sister and me to join them for dinner. I reluctantly came; I didn’t want to be away from my new girlfriend for a single minute; I was so crazy in love. But I was afraid to speak of it. I got through dinner and kept trying to leave. As I was finally walking out the door, my mom looked at me from the couch where she had stood to face me from across the room. “Can I ask you a question?”
I stopped and turned to face her, still holding the door open.
“Are you gay?”
I looked right at her and, after years of lying and hiding, said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Oh no,” she said and flung herself onto the couch—which was either shock that I actually told the truth or disappointment as a performative act. My sister, on the couch behind her, glared at me with fire in her eyes. I had no idea I was gay growing up, not when I got caught trying to kiss Misty Cooper in fourth grade and never got invited back to her house again, not when I was dizzy after my nose brushed against Sarah’s heavenly smelling hair in a perfunctory high-school girl-hug greeting in the band room, not in college when the first and most important thing I needed people to know was that I was NOT gay, not until the prior month when I had spent an entire weekend trying to figure out how to be alone with Valerie, the half-Bolivian high-school friend of my roommate who was visiting from Miami. She was out, drove a black sports car, and used her passport as ID when we went bar-hopping after ditching the rest of the crowd. I was transfixed.
Recognition of self, recognition at all, is predicated on visibility. To see oneself in the world has the power to transform existence into vibrancy. Lesbians, especially financially successful or “corporate lesbians,” were intentionally invisible in the 1980s. In fact, I only “saw” one in a fiction workshop in graduate school in 1992, in the story of a fellow student. It was fiction. The protagonist lesbian executive was completely out, referencing her wife and dinner plans to her assistant! No one did this in real life. My girlfriend at the time, a former bank executive, had been fired on trumped-up causes, later learning it was really because she was gay. You might live with your girlfriend, but you had separate phone lines, one of you rented a P.O. box to have a separate address, and you carefully navigated pronouns in the break room if anyone asked what you did over the weekend; if you sent or received flowers, the cards were unsigned or in secret code. You took your gay male friends to every office party, picnic, and social event. Djuna Barnes depicted recognition of the othered self in Nightwood (1936) when she described a character with no limbs, propped in a velvet-lined box, who demanded that a mirror be suspended over his face. The image of the small mirror reflecting self to self as the world passed behind the mirror is striking in the graphic way it demonstrates how those who are “other” must manipulate their field of vision in order to see themselves reflected in society, ostensibly as part of that society.
My parents, despite their work on behalf of civil rights through the years, and their unequivocal support of my intermittent actions to speak out against racial injustice, had a bad reaction to my coming out. “God did not save your life for you to be a lesbian,” my mom said. (At sixteen I ’d been diagnosed with Stage IIIc ovarian cancer; survival statistics were grim; I was lucky and I ’d had complete pelvic sweep surgery, an invisible erasure of a narrow definition of womanhood. “You’re no less a woman,” I was told. I ’d been dubbed a miracle child for surviving.) There were no miracles now.
“You are not the choices you make,” my father said. “We love you anyway.” Anyway? “Who have you told?” my mother asked. “I don’t want anyone to know.”
I disappeared into the folds of Atlanta. When I spent Christmas with my girlfriend’s family, I went into the bathroom and cried because it wasn’t my family and they didn’t know we were more than friends. They thought she was a nice person reaching out to a lost waif. I spent Easter alone, while my next girlfriend was across town with her family. They didn’t accept me either. I didn’t call my family. They didn’t call me.
I couldn’t go home. I was girl crazy (though I had at times tried to mimic behaviors of girls “in love” with boys, like writing a note to Larry in second grade, I had never been boy crazy, as had my sister). I danced, I dated, I fell in love. I was alive; I felt alive. But to live this life, my life, the pulsing, real, true life, I lost my family. Although I was closeted at work—I was working as a newspaper reporter—my fledgling emancipation gave an authenticity to my life I had never known. For the first time, I didn’t care what other people thought about whom I went out with, because I had actual feelings for the person—physical feelings, which led also to emotional connections that were no match for the manufactured behaviors I ’d tried to summon in high school and college in an effort to mirror the incomprehensible social lives of my straight friends.
I was slow to learn the hidden costs of visibility. At a close college friend’s spend-the-night bridal shower at her parents’ mountain cottage, amid warm hugs and greetings, I announced my out-ness and shared my joy at a newfound love, to an immediate chill. Drinks were poured and memories trotted out. The celebratory focus stayed on the bride, but there was a perceptible distance in every toast and interaction. No one would look me in the eye. My girlfriend had a young daughter, so my bedtime was much earlier than in college. After calling her, I bid goodnight to the others and said I ’d leave the door open so we could share the sleeping arrangements as we always had; there were not enough beds for everyone in the small cabin. The next day I awoke before anyone else, in isolation. Goodbyes were cool, no hugs. I never saw any of them again. The same summer, because I was estranged from my family, I missed the wedding of one of my best high-school friends—a wedding my father officiated, as he would never be able to do for me.
The freedom of living the way I actually felt, the joy of an authentic sexual awakening—not the clinical exploration of college sex with men—compensated, I suppose, in many ways for the losses. I was heading in a bold new direction. Almost everything was new.
In the city, in my new life, I often said in conversation that I didn’t know anything of real discrimination. I could “pass” as straight. In the daylight, I went to work in professional, feminine attire. Friends called it “work drag.” At home, I was able to be my new self—living with my first girlfriend until we broke up, and then living alone. At night, I went out to the lesbian bars in Atlanta, dressed in jeans and boots—keys, driver’s license, and cash in my pockets—no purse. It was heady freedom. The next morning, in my work drag, no one could tell where I ’d been.
One day, in the routine preparation for a city council meeting in Acworth, a small community outside Atlanta, I called to get the agenda from the city clerk. An item had caught my editor’s attention. The National Socialist Youth of Georgia, a white supremacist group, was soliciting a parade permit. One of the global leaders of white hate groups was based nearby in Kennesaw, and I was sent to interview the two young men who had requested the permit.
The house where they lived was a small shotgun house less than two miles from the newspaper office. It had the shabby look of a rental property. The “curtain” in the front window was a Confederate flag, hung sloppily but still the dominant feature of the house from the street. I had called ahead to make the appointment, and the guy on the phone had been very polite. As I parked my car in the driveway, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Had I been self-aware enough to pay attention to the signals my body was giving, I would have realized I should be afraid. I thought it was my new self-consciousness of knowing I was intentionally “passing” and maybe it was that too. I was alone, with only my notebook and camera.
The two young men met me at the door and were overly polite, solicitous even. They were perhaps college age, not much younger than I. They reminded me of a few of the Kappa Alphas at Georgia—who displayed over-the-top chivalrous gestures in public yet impregnated their girlfriends, talked trash about them, cheated on them, hit them. But these two were not Kappa Alphas. They were white supremacists. The walls of their home had pictures of Black people, caricatures that were astonishing in their attempted humiliation of the physicality of other human beings. Two silhouettes of Black people with exaggerated afros and lips. Horrible racial slurs on refrigerator magnets. Posters of hate and what they would like to do to Black people. The interview was a verbal version of the setting. I asked reporter-y questions, letting these guys talk, capturing their words. My heart beat in my ears so loudly I could barely function. I was embarrassed by and appalled at what they were saying and terrified they might get a whiff that I was a lesbian, even though I was well-practiced in lying and hiding.
We sat in their living room on a futon sofa and another sofa, and I felt a chill. If they knew what I was . . . It unsettled me that I couldn’t name what they might do. There was Confederate regalia everywhere, different manifestations of the Confederate flag. The Nazi flag was also a fixture. Mein Kampf was on the bookshelf. I had the two pose in front of the bookshelf for a photo, with some of these horrors in the background, partly because it framed well and partly because I could not believe this house. I had never seen this kind of thing and had never met anyone who would live like this. The ambiance was hatred, vitriol. Yet their manner was kind, gentle even. The dissonance was unnerving. I hoped my blond hair, blue eyes, skirt and blouse had me looking Aryan and feminine enough to “pass.” The line between visibility and invisibility in their presence felt like it was the difference between violence and civility, between life and death. And it felt like a very thin line—a line that is only available to some people and I happened to be one. Still, I did not feel safe.
I was shaking as I drove away, like I had escaped. Just a couple of blocks away, two of my lesbian friends lived in a house where we were often in the kitchen while they played their guitars, Indigo Girls and Michelle Malone songs. We stood around, listening, singing along, and kissing on our girlfriends.
I still think about those white supremacists. Why would anyone decorate their home with images of something they hate? Most kids that age, in their first rental place, would have décor more for the statement it made than for aesthetic appeal. But usually such statements are positive—school affiliation, sports team loyalty, music obsessions, professional aspirations. The sports logos would be for the team they support, not the team they “hate.” Yet these young neo-Nazis had very carefully hung derogatory depictions of Black people and had framed and hung racist epithets. That’s the striking thing; it wasn’t that they push-pinned some newspaper clippings or torn-out magazine pages on the walls. These were permanent bric-a-brac that had been purchased for the purpose of “decoration,” like horrible Holly Hobbie items from a hateful Hallmark store. I was astonished that they needed such concrete reminders of their hate—like athletes who post their rivals’ stats on their mirrors for inspiration in training. Was it the object or the hate itself that was so necessary to them? Would it have been too easy to forget about Black people if these men just lived in their white world, hanging out with their white friends? It wasn’t as if Black people were seeking them out. Was their actual hate weaker than it seemed, or were they boot camp recruits who apparently required such constant affirmation and reinforcement to attain a required intensity? It seemed to me that they were working very hard at hating, doing things, like investing in visual reminders, to keep their hate alive. They were also working hard to gain visibility—with their parade permit, with the flyers they were distributing all over the state . . . and with the news coverage my employer was providing. I am still conflicted about having contributed to their visibility—a visibility that they clearly felt safe in but which strikes fear in me and is dangerous, damaging, and deadly for people of color.
In 1989 I was working at the statewide United Methodist newspaper in Atlanta before the General Conference held a vote on whether or not to allow same-sex unions (not marriage). I was the associate editor and had to read vitriolic letters, some from people I had grown up with—people who had faced me and greeted me and didn’t know they hated me. Had I not seen the letters I wouldn’t have known they hated me either. Neither of us had full visibility. No matter—I was deep in the closet, sporting work drag, passing. Not until 1995, working at a software company in Atlanta, did I ever let co-workers know I was gay. Even then, I only told my team and was comedic about it, prioritizing their comfort over my own sense of well-being. In 1999, when software companies in Austin were recruiting me, I came out to the recruiter after she presented the offers; I was not moving halfway across the country by myself to be in danger, in Texas of all places. She confirmed that both companies, one especially, were completely open; at the time I did not understand that Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup” of Texas. I quickly learned that not only could I be out completely but in the Austin housing market there were no gay ghettos as there were in Atlanta, where the lesbians all lived in Decatur and the gay boys in midtown, preferably in Elton John’s zip code.
In 1989 I had responded to rejection with rejection and left the church. Throughout the ten years that I was “unchurched,” I still could not let my faith go. Instead, I parsed nomenclature: I didn’t pray, I “sent light” or “positive energy”; I didn’t reference God or Jesus, but said “the Universe.”
In 2015, twenty-six years after I came out and many emotional miles later, my parents came to my Episcopal/Jewish wedding in Austin. By then I had been a member of the Episcopal Church for a dozen years. My wife and I had gotten engaged in August 2014, with the wedding planned for November 2015. It was a convoluted plan—marriage license and civil ceremony in California, where it was legal, then religious ceremony with family and friends in Austin. But then, in June 2015, in a miracle I thought I ’d never see in my lifetime, the Supreme Court cooperated, ruling gay marriage legal nationwide. A huge moment in itself, this ruling allowed us to marry in one place, on one day, with her rabbi, my priest, and our family and friends together. We blended the Hebrew and English, the Jewish and Episcopalian, literally cutting and pasting copies of our rituals together. My dad participated by leading the Prayers of the People. Even though he wanted to be a part of our ceremony (he had performed my sister’s wedding in a Methodist church in Atlanta), we didn’t want him to do more than what a layperson could do, because just two years before, in 2013, a United Methodist minister in Virginia had lost his credentials and his connection to the church after having officiated at his gay son’s wedding six years prior. I didn’t want my dad to lose anything, to risk his ordination—or his pension. I didn’t want him to break the rules.
Back in the summer of 1972, a new family had moved in across the street from us. My sister and I had gone over to meet them; they had six children. We played with the ones closest to our ages and, of course, invited them to church. The church was at the end of the street; you could see it from our house. Our father was the minister, so my sister and I felt an ownership. It was small, red brick, with gold opaque glass windows that glowed like candles when the lights were on inside. The square parking lot was gravel and, together with a small cliff at its edge, separated the church from the back of a gas station that fronted a busy highway.
We had already invited the Palmer kids to swim in our shallow backyard aluminum pool, which they had done. On Saturday night, Mrs. Palmer called my dad to ask what time the service was. He surmised that she was also calling to see if the invitation was real. He encouraged her to come and gave the service time. Sunday morning, when Mrs. Palmer and her children walked into the sanctuary, people murmured and craned their necks. One man got up, said he would not be in church with Black people, and stormed out. We could hear his car crank up in the parking lot, his tires spun gravel that clinked against the gold church windows. I flinched at the sound, which had created its own visual. The Palmer family stayed. Years later, my dad heard from a member of the church that the man who had stormed out eventually returned and had been back in the church for a while. Before the service one Sunday, he walked to the front of the church and said he had something to say. He asked Sheryl Palmer to join him at the chancel rail, and he publicly apologized to her and hugged her. While my father still tells the story with amazement about how the man overcame his racism, no one ever talks about what Sheryl Palmer’s experience was, how it must have felt to her to let this man have his moment of atonement—or satisfaction—without regard for her. As if his apology were the most important part of the story. As if that made everything okay. As if it were up to him.
The visibility that Sheryl Palmer brandished by stepping into that white church in 1972 with her kids took guts. But my guess is that allowing that white man to publicly apologize to her took more self-control—or Godly love—than I can imagine. The visibility of hate that today’s cell phone videos and riot coverage provide, which is heightened by the president legitimizing groups that perpetuate hate, has at least begun to erase the literally white-washed fairy tale we were taught was American history. Without visibility to the racist behaviors of a policeman kneeling on a Black man’s neck in Minneapolis, a father and son gunning down a Black jogger in Brunswick, Georgia, and the many other atrocities we’ve all been witness to in recent months and years as cell phone cameras have been able to capture video of what has always been, without visibility to the ensuing riots, to Black people pushing back for their right to “watch tv while Black,” to “jog while Black,” without the intrepid visibility provided by the twenty-four-hour news cycle, white people are again and again lulled into complacency, allowed to think things have changed because we don’t see the struggle daily the way we have been forced to look at it in this moment. In our complacency, we continue centuries of complicitly supporting the ravages of institutional racism.
I wonder about white family as privilege. In second grade, Larry knew he was Black. So did his parents. He was visible as a Black boy to them. But having to come out to your parents, to make yourself fully visible, to say, “I’m gay,” is both dangerous and freeing; the rending of the veil is life changing, for better and worse. In the end, my parents and I refused, in our own ways, to give up on each other. Black families have been torn apart by the racism inflicted upon them by white people for centuries while white families have the luxury of rejecting or disowning or conditionally including their LGBTQ children, because no one has ever stolen or murdered their children writ large. Because of our perpetuation of racism, I’m told that Black families must have “the talk” with their children about how to stay safe, to stay alive, as they grow into teenagers and adults.
Families as institutions cannot be exempt from scrutiny as we strive toward a new world of seeing each other, of sharing visibility. Black families and Black churches can be safe havens for their members; racism is generationally understood and mutually suffered. It is the very rare family, of any race, that has a “talk” with LGBTQ children about how to stay safe, housed, un-addicted, how to stay alive (suicide rates outpace murder by far). And Black LGBTQ people face a compounded rejection from church, family, and a racist society.
Visibility matters. It is a matter of life and death—for individuals and for our society. In one way, visibility is a contract, a social contract between the seer and the seen. Freedom from racism, and freedom in general, is not solely given to individuals by the state. We can’t be passive and be free, just as we can’t be absolutely safe and absolutely free at the same time. Our freedom is predicated on taking responsibility for ourselves and for each other—holding ourselves and each other accountable for our own visibility, for our responses to the visibility of the others and the othered. But more than holding each other accountable, we are called to behold each other—with the full etymology of the word, from the Old English behealdan: be– plus healdan, to hold. To behold each other requires deeper engagement, paying attention and truly being present to each other—holding one another—as human beings.